In the winter 2000 issue, we printed a case report of an unusual
clinical course of a brain tumor in a 3-month-old girl
who had several operations and who also had ministrations
from a Russian faith healer who was featured on a TV magazine
show. We asked our readers to present a rational or
more mundane and scientific explanation than intercession by
a faith healer.
Dr Sandweiss’s was the only entry in the race, and yet he
found the one clue that led to the more prosaic reason: the fact
that the tumor had shown signs of regression and necrosis before
the faith healing began. Other reasons he presents are
more speculative, may not be necessary, and may even
weaken his case.
Cancer cells die and tumors necrose for a variety of reasons.
So-called spontaneous remissions, better called “unexplained
regressions,” are examples of a natural, final common
pathway in the natural history of some treated and untreated
IAM WRITING IN REGARD TO THE CASE REPORT IN THE
Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine attributing an
apparent cure of glioblastoma multiforme to psychic
healing. 1 The medical history of this child is consistent
with anomalous improvement. Anomalous improvement
refers to the clinical course of treated or untreated
disease that is significantly more favorable than historical
patterns. Anomalous improvement of rapidly fatal
malignant disease covers a spectrum of disease progression
that includes: slowed progression, stability, regression
with persistence, remission with recurrence, and
remission with apparent cure. The patient under discussion
falls into the last category.
Hirshberg et al. have described cases of “remarkable
recovery” from malignant disease that coincided with
serious infections and/or fever. 2 Coley noted that the
administration of bacterial toxins had a favorable influence
on the course of some patients with sarcoma. 3 It has
been suggested that patients with lung cancer who develop
an empyema after pneumonectomy have improved
survival. 4 Perhaps certain infectious processes or high
THE SCIENTIFIC REVIEW OF ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE Vol. 5, No. 4 (Fall 2001)
fever might favorably influence tumor progression. Is the
patient under discussion an example?
In October 1994 the patient “developed a severe illness
of high fever and lethargy.” Subsequently, in February
1995, the neurosurgeon expressed surprise that the
tumor had not progressed more rapidly during the previous
4 or 5 months. Three months later “whitishcreamy
material, containing many WBCs but no bacteria”
was aspirated from the right frontal area. In June
1995 (1 month later) she was found to have “a fibrotic
mass adherent to tumor” and “a thick fibrotic wall
around the tumor islands.” Was this intense inflammatory
reaction in response to an infectious process or to
the tumor itself? It certainly seems to have had a favorable
influence in containing the tumor.
It is possible that psychosocial factors favorably influence
progression of malignant disease. Hirshberg describes
spontaneous cures of cancer that have been anecdotally
associated with highly supportive caregivers,
positive outlook, and the use of nonconventional
methods such as meditation. 2 Studies have suggested
that patients with breast cancer can experience a therapeutic
benefit by manipulating the psychosocial environment.
5 Some authors propose that psychosocial factors
associated with religiosity improve health
outcomes. 6 Mechanisms have been postulated, but are
unproven. Presumably, these effects are mediated by the
autonomic, neuroendocrine, and/or immune systems.
This patient’s improvement actually seemed to begin
several months prior to the encounter with the Russian
“energy” healer. She continued to improve after these
sessions began. Whether this improvement represents
coincidence or a favorable therapeutic intervention is
unknown. Certainly, one does not need to invoke paranormal
forces or energies to explain a benefit.
What is clear is that anomalous cures of malignant
disease, although rare, do occur. 7 The factors that produce
these unusual cures, including that of the patient
under discussion, are unknown. The phenomenon is
worthy of further study.
1. Koopman B. Psychic healing of a case of glioblastoma
multiforme in a three-month-old infant. Sci Rev Alt Med.
2. Hirshberg C, Barasch MI. Remarkable Recovery. New
York, NY: Riverhead Books; 1995.
234 THE SCIENTIFIC REVIEW OF ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
3. Starnes WB. Coley’s toxins, tumor necrosis factor and
cancer research: a historical perspective. Pharmacol Ther. 1994;
4. Ruckdeschel JC, Codish SD, Stranhan A, Mckneally
MF. Postoperative empyema improves survival in lung cancer.
Documentation and analysis of a natural experiment. N Engl
J Med. 1972;287:1013–1017.
5. Spiegel D, Bloom JR, Kraemer H, Gottheil E. Effect of
psychosocial treatment on survival of patients with metastatic
breast cancer. Lancet. 1989;2(8668):888–891.
6. Koenig H. Exploring links between religion/spirituality
and health. Sci Rev Alt Med. 1999;3(1):52–55.
7. Sperduto P, Vaezy A, Bridgman A, Wilkie L. Spontaneous
regression of squamous cell lung carcinoma with adrenal
metastasis. Chest. 1988;94(4):887–889.
DONALD A. SANDWEISS, MD
FTC Cracks Down on Marketers of Bogus Bioterrorism Defense Products
The Federal Trade Commission in November warned
Web site operators who suggest using such things as
oregano oil or zinc mineral water to treat illnesses like
anthrax that it is aware of no scientific proof for such
claims and that the Web site operators must remove
them from the Internet. After a coordinated Internet
“surf” found sites touting products and therapies that
claim to prevent, treat, or cure anthrax, smallpox, and
other health hazards, the FTC sent about 40 e-mail
warnings telling operators of these sites to pull the information
immediately. The FTC staff will follow up by
revisiting the targeted sites to determine whether the
changes have been made. Operators who continue to
make deceptive or misleading claims face possible prosecution
for violating the Federal Trade Commission Act
The warning campaign is based on information
gathered via a coordinated Internet surf by the FTC with
the help of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA),
more than 30 state attorneys general, and the California
Department of Health Services. The Internet search focused
on products claiming to protect against, detect,
prevent, or treat biological and chemical agents, including
anthrax. More than 200 sites marketing bioterrorism-related
products were uncovered, and additional
sites are being evaluated for possible warning letters. Included
in the review were such items as gas masks and
protective suits; mail sterilizers; biohazard test kits;
homeopathic remedies; and dietary supplements such as
colloidal silver, zinc mineral water, thyme, and oregano
oil as treatments for contamination by biological agents.
Web sites may be subject to state or federal investigation
or prosecution for making deceptive or misleading marketing
claims that their products can protect against,
detect, prevent, or treat biological or chemical contamination.
“This marketing targets people worried about
the prospect of exposure to lethal biological or chemical
weapons. The FTC is aware of no scientific basis for any
of the self-treatment alternatives being marketed on the
Internet,” said Howard Beales, director of the FTC’s Bureau
of Consumer Protection. “Essentially, these operators
need to shut down these areas of their sites or face
prosecution. Our best advice for consumers: Consult
your physician immediately if you believe you may have
been exposed to anthrax or any other biological agents.”
Beales praised the coordinated effort by the various surf
participants, noting that “this should help put an early
end to misleading marketing attempts that prey on
people’s fears of anthrax, smallpox, or any other biological
or chemical threats. Where necessary, we will pursue
legal action vigorously or promptly.”
John Taylor, the FDA’s director of the Office of Enforcement,
noted that the FDA has approved a limited
number of products for the treatment of anthrax, including
Ciprofloxacin (Cipro), doxycycline, and penicillin
G procaine. “However,” he added, “there are no
products marketed as dietary supplements that have
been proven safe or effective for the treatment or prevention
of anthrax. Together with the FTC, we’ve found
quite a number of disturbing sites. Companies marketing
unapproved or otherwise misbranded products for anthrax
or other diseases run a very high risk of FDA enforcement
or regulatory action.”
In addition, a broad coalition of trade associations
representing the dietary supplement industry has indicated
that there is no scientific basis for the promotion
of dietary supplements for the treatment of anthrax.
Firms or individuals who violate the FTC Act could
be subject to a federal district court injunction, enforceable
through civil or criminal contempt proceedings; or
an administrative cease and desist order, enforceable
through civil penalties of up to $11,000 per violation.